Tell WA legislators: Unleash the Family and Medical Leave Act

grandpaWe all need access to long-term leave at some point — whether to nurture a new child, fight cancer, or care for an aging parent. But too many Washington workers don’t have that option. They have to sacrifice health and family well-being to cover their bills.

Washington’s Family and Medical Leave Insurance (FaMLI) bill would protect people in those situations. But as of week three of a sixty-day legislative session, the FaMLI bill hasn’t been scheduled for a hearing. Without leadership’s approval, the bill will die in the Appropriations Committee, without even a chance for consideration by the full legislature.

Washington voters deserve to know whether their elected leaders will stand up and support our families. Please urge your representative to push for a hearing on the FaMLI bill in the House Appropriations Committee.

San Francisco Supervisor Calls For Fully Paid Parental Leave

baby feet

Photo: Jessica Major via Flickr Creative Commons

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener on Wednesday announced legislation that would make San Francisco the first city in the country to require companies to provide fully paid parental leave to employees.

While state law allows employees to get up to 55 percent of their wages for six weeks through disability payments, an ordinance Wiener plans to introduce later this month would require San Francisco employers to pay the remaining 45 percent.

The legislation, announced Wednesday with the support of the women’s rights organization Equal Rights Advocates, would apply to both mothers and fathers working for companies with 20 or more employees.

Full story: CBS SF Bay Area »

Paid family-leave proposal arrives with force before D.C. Council

working-dadDozens of supporters of a controversial proposal for the nation’s most generous family-leave law, including parents, small-business owners and union members, urged city lawmakers Tuesday to pass the measure supported by a majority of the D.C. Council.

“We’re here for all of the obvious reasons,” said Jamie Smith, of the Chevy Chase neighborhood, who had her 10-month-old son, Adam, bouncing on her lap at Tuesday’s council meeting at the Wilson Building. “It’s just the right thing to do.”

Seven of the council’s 13 members co-introduced the proposed law Tuesday that would give every D.C. resident as much as 16 weeks of paid family leave.

The measure, developed with the help of the Obama administration, would allow residents to take paid leave following the birth or adoption of a child, to care for a terminally ill relative, or for just about any life-changing event in between.

The broad new benefit would be paid for by a tax on D.C. employers of up to 1 percent of employees’ salaries. Business leaders warned that could be hurtful and put them at a competitive disadvantage regionally, but D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) moved to streamline a review of the proposed law, keeping it before his committee and therefore one step from a councilwide vote.

Full story: Washington Post »

Family, business, health advocates cheer Department of Labor award to Washington

mom with baby on couchPress release: WASHINGTON | Advocates for paid family and medical leave applauded the U.S. Department of Labor’s decision to award $247,000 to Washington state to study the economic impacts of implementing a paid family and medical leave program.

“The Washington Work and Family Coalition is excited by this news and what it could mean for the families of our state,” said Marilyn Watkins, policy director of the Economic Opportunity Institute. “I’ve gotten calls from pregnant women who don’t know how they’ll be able to afford more than a couple weeks off after giving birth, from people struggling to help an aging parent through a health crisis while going to work and tending to their own kids, from small business owners who would love to find a way to provide employees with 12 weeks of paid family leave – but just can’t do it on their own.”

For well over a decade, the Coalition – including a number of women’s, labor, senior, children’s, faith, small business, and health organizations – has advocated for paid family and medical leave.

“From a public health standpoint, the evidence for paid leave is overwhelming,” said Representative June Robinson, sponsor of House Bill 1273 to establish family and medical leave insurance (FMLI). “Babies are healthier for the long term when they are breast fed and their parents can stay home with them for the first several months. Adults are healthier and more productive when they have adequate leave to recover from their own serious health conditions or care for sick family members, without the stress of family financial crisis.”

House Bill 1273 and companion Senate Bill 5459 would provide workers with up to 12 weeks of partially paid leave to care for a new child or seriously ill family member, or for their own serious health condition. Benefits would be provided through a trust fund, financed through payroll premiums of about $65 per year for the state’s typical worker and their employer. In 2007, the Legislature passed a stripped down version of paid family leave that only provided 5 weeks for new parents and did not identify a funding source. Because of the recession, the program was postponed indefinitely rather than being implemented as intended in 2009.

Washington is one of eight states receiving Department of Labor grants.

“I think the research from this grant is just what we need to get family leave ‘unstuck’, and I applaud Governor Inslee’s leadership on this,” said Senator Karen Keiser, current sponsor of SB 5459 and prime sponsor of the 2007 bill. “Showing people just how much the state can save on public assistance, child care subsidies, and home care for seniors, along with how much more effective programs like home visiting can be will help some of legislators on both sides of the aisle understand the full benefits of family and medical leave insurance.“

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About the Economic Opportunity Institute: www.eoionline.org

About the Washington Work and Family Coalition: www.waworkandfamily.org

Why Does Becoming a Mom Mean Potentially Losing Your Job?

Washington State’s Failure to Mandate Paid Parental Leave Hurts Gender Equity, Parents, and Kids

Photo: Frank de Kleine/Flickr Creative Commons

Photo: Frank de Kleine/Flickr Creative Commons

My best friend from graduate school and I will both become first-time mothers this year. As a citizen of Ireland, my friend will be able to stay home with her baby for almost a year and then return to her present career path. As an American state employee, I can either stay home with my child or maintain my current career trajectory—and I’m one of the lucky ones because I get to actually make a choice.

Irish law includes a “maternity benefit” that pays 80 percent of wages to new mothers during the first 26 weeks after birth, and can begin two weeks before birth if needed. An additional 16 weeks of unpaid leave is optional. In the United States, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act requires that employers grant only 12 weeks of leave to new mothers, and payment of wages during this time is decided state by state. Only California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island offer paid leave; Washington State passed a law in 2007 requiring paid leave for new parents, but it hasn’t gone into effect because it lacks funding.

If I don’t want to leave my baby at three months of age to go back to work, I will give up my job in—ironically—global health and look for work again once my child goes to school. And to my knowledge, none of the places where I currently freelance, including The Stranger, offer paid maternity leave or anything beyond the federally mandated 12 weeks of unpaid time off. In a part of the country where global-health work is incredibly competitive and underfunded, I’ll most likely be scraping the bottom of the barrel to get back into the workforce. But my Irish friend will be able to jump back into her field with the seniority and security she’s built up over the last 10 years since we graduated and parted ways.

Numerous studies prove that women who receive paid maternity leave are more likely to return to their jobs, thereby remaining contributing, upwardly mobile members of the workforce, so why is the United States the sole industrialized country in the world that doesn’t mandate some amount of paid leave?

Full Story: The Stranger »

Mother is calling on Gov. Inslee to fund paid maternity leave (Video)

Rebecca Valley, a new mom who works as an Administrative Assistant in Everett, is calling on Governor Jay Inslee to fund paid maternity leave. When she gave birth 11 months ago to her daughter Matilda, Rebecca planned to use her three weeks of paid time off to care for her newborn. She ended up needing to take an additional two weeks of unpaid leave because of an unexpected C-section. Then she went back to work – before she or Matilda were ready – in order to pay the bills.

Rebecca is asking Washington residents to sign a petition, urging the Governor to fund an existing state law that provides for paid family leave.

Click to watch video (opens in new window)

Click to watch video from KIRO TV (opens in new window)

Five states have paid family or disability leave programs funded through payroll premiums. New moms and babies are healthier in those states, and women are more likely to be working – and for higher wages – a year after childbirth than in states without paid parental leave.

Washington passed a Paid Family Leave Law in 2007, which was supposed to go into effect in 2009. But lawmakers didn’t approve funding, and then the recession hit. Paid Family Leave has taken a back seat to other issues ever since. This year, two Washington lawmakers introduced bills to fund the program, and to include leave to care for an elderly parent or other family member or the worker’s own serious illness. The bill passed the House Labor Committee and could be passed by the full legislature next January.

What will it take to make paid family leave a priority in Washington’s legislature?

EOI’s Policy Director Marilyn Watkins responds to KIRO reporter Siemny Kim: “Every time I see a pregnant woman, I get a little frustrated and mad that we don’t have that program operating yet. Lawmakers have to hear from the public.”

Via KiroTV.com

Terri’s story, or, why cancer really doesn’t care how responsible you are

terry cavillo 3

Terry Cavillo did everything right to protect herself financially. Her cancer didn’t care.

Terri did everything right. She and her husband raised three great children – now mostly grown. She was a loyal employee for 14 years and prepared for the future, buying into the short term disability plan her company offered and investing in a 401(k). She even decided it was time to get healthy and lost 30 lbs.

When her cancer diagnosis came, she had family support, a financial cushion, and the legal protection of the FMLA. But none of that proved quite enough to last through two years of treatment and three surgeries. Despite her years of hard work and responsible actions, one bout of seriously bad luck has left Terri worried about her family’s future.

In September 2013, after speaking with some co-workers, Terri became suspicious of symptoms she’d been having. She visited the doctor and after two biopsies learned she had cancer in both breasts. In October, Terri had a lumpectomy and eventually a double mastectomy. In total, Terri has needed to take 3 separate medical leaves from work to deal with her cancer

“It was the worst experience of my life” said Terri.

Terri has worked for a major retailer in Tacoma for 14 years. She felt lucky to have her job protected through the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act which covers employees in companies with 50 or more employees, who have worked with the same employer at least a year and for enough hours. She had also purchased short term disability insurance. This meant she would have some income to keep her family afloat while she recovered from surgery and have a job to go back to after the ordeal.

But disability insurance did not fully cover her wages—and it left her particularly short when she had to go back for a 2nd surgery. Coordinating all the paperwork with her medical team, HR department, and the separate disability plan provider also proved complicated. It never seemed like they were on her side.

“It was such a hassle that I didn’t need. I kept getting certified letters from the HR department saying they had not received the doctor’s letters… I’m the face of their company, I don’t call in sick unless I have a legitimate reason. I should be rewarded for being a decent employee.”

To add more stress, her health insurance did not fully cover medical expenses and bills began to pile up. With limited options, Terri decided to tap into her 401K. Despite spending most of her retirement savings, she still has unpaid medical bills that keep her and her family underwater. Even her strong family started feeling shaky. “Money problems are hard on a marriage” Terri says.

If Washington had enacted and funded family and medical leave insurance (HB 1273),Terri would have had stable income throughout her cancer treatments – without nearly exhausting her retirement account. Her husband could have taken leave to help care for her. She would have had less stress, meaning faster healing, better morale when she returned to work, and less strain on her family.

Terri’s story could be anyone’s experience. That’s why we all need family and medical leave insurance.